A sentencing hearing led to an emotional outburst in the Washington County courthouse Thursday (Jan. 16), when a Prairie Grove woman was sentenced to life in prison in the 2012 killing of a man. Heather Swain was led away in handcuffs at the Washington County courthouse.
Swain waived her right to a jury sentencing. She cried as Judge William Storey sentenced her to life in prison for being an accomplice to capital murder and 25 years for being an accomplice to kidnapping.
One of Swain's family members stood up just after the hearing and yelled generally at the court, saying the sentence had ruined Swain's life. She was led away from the area while still noticeably annoyed at authorities.
Swain had been on trial since Monday in the death of Ronnie Lee Bradley.
"Her petition has been all along that she was a victim in this case just as Ronnie was, the jury didn't agree," said Bill James, Swain’s attorney.
One of Swain’s daughter told Judge Storey he was taking a mom away from her children. Swain’s family declined to talk to on camera.
Swain’s attorney Bill James said this isn’t over.
"There definitely will be an appeal," James said. "We have some issues that we think are pretty strong, we certainly are going look at the whole record and see if there is anything else there."
Swain was found not guilty of a third charge of tampering with evidence.
"I'm grateful to the jury, they took their time, they went through the evidence and they arrived at correct conclusion based on the evidence," said John Threet, Washington County Prosecutor.
Two other suspects in the case have pleaded guilty, avoiding the death penalty. Timothy Swinford, 38, pleaded guilty in December to first-degree murder and kidnapping. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, with an additional 30-year sentence suspended, according to court records.
On Nov. 5, his brother, Anthony Swinford, 36, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping records show. He was sentenced to 40 years on the murder charge and an additional 40 years on the kidnapping charge, with the sentences to be served consecutively, according to the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Anthony Swinford, Timothy Swinford, Swain and James Patton were arrested on suspicion of capital murder and kidnapping in December 2012. In January 2013, they pleaded not guilty at their arraignments in the Washington County Detention Center.
The next court date for Patton has not been set, officials said.
Bradley, a Prairie Grove resident described by neighbors as disabled, was beaten to death while the suspects took turns driving and punching and choking him, according to a preliminary report from the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office. Bradley lived on Cleveland Street in Prairie Grove. The car in his driveway has a license plate for disabled drivers.
Bradley told the suspects several times during the beating, “Please take me home,” the report states.
The Sheriff’s Office responded to a call at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 27 of a male body being discovered in the unpaved driveway of a chicken farm at 17409 Four Corner Road, records show. Responders determined the body was Bradley’s. He was declared dead at the scene, officials said.
In an interview with authorities, Anthony Swinford said he beat the victim and left him in the driveway. He also implicated Swain, Patton and Timothy Swinford as accomplices, court records show.
Anthony Swinford also rode along with investigators and pointed out the incident locations, according to a preliminary report.
Swain cleaned up the evidence after the suspects dropped Bradley off in a driveway, a report states. She also faces a charge of tampering with evidence.
Investigators recovered bloody clothing and the vehicle used in the crime, according to the preliminary report. The suspects had marks on them that suggested they were involved in an altercation, a report states.
Three of the four suspects admitted to taking part in the beating, deputies said. Their admissions were backed up by witness statements, video evidence and physical evidence taken from the vehicle and the suspects’ homes, a report states.
The suspected murder came fewer than two weeks after Patton was arrested by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of third-degree domestic battery. He was also arrested and convicted of domestic battery in 2008 and a previous charge of assault on a family member.
All the suspects have a criminal history. Swain has previously been arrested in connection with domestic battery, possession of a controlled substance and driving while intoxicated. Anthony Swinford has a criminal history that includes charges of aggravated assault, possession of a controlled substance, domestic battery, breaking and entering, theft, commercial burglary, terroristic threatening and violation of a protection order. Timothy Swinford’s history includes arrests on suspicion of domestic battery, endangering the welfare of a minor and driving while intoxicated.